11 Things to Do in Chattanooga, Tennessee

As we embark on our adventure around the world, we would be remiss if we didn’t share our favorite things about our current hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Located in the southeastern United States, Chattanooga features something for everyone, whether you’re a foodie, an art lover, the outdoorsy type, or traveling as a family. It’s the only city to ever win Outside magazine’s “Best Town Ever” contest twice, and the New York Times named it one of their 52 places to visit in 2018.

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Planning a trip soon? Here are our 11 favorite things about the Scenic City:

1. Art is everywhere! From the Hunter Museum of American Art to the drive-through art of the McCallie Walls Mural Project, Chattanooga has artists and artworks of all kinds.

If you’re visiting Hunter Museum, be sure to check their events calendar for fun ways to enjoy the exhibits, including special opening receptions, the Bands on the Bluff concert series, and Artful Yoga sessions.

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Our friend Sush Shanta giving an art talk at Hunter Museum during their Chairman’s Circle reception for the special exhibit of works by artists who have immigrated to America

In Chattanooga during the month of April? You won’t want to miss the annual 4 Bridges Arts Festival, a juried show and sale featuring artists from across America.

And you can view and purchase wonderful works of art year-round at Gallery 1401, In-Town Gallery, Hart Gallery, and Area 61.

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Student art on display at Palate 2 Palette in Chattanooga

2. You’re surrounded by nature. There are hiking trails everywhere in Chattanooga. Our favorites in the city include Stringer’s Ridge and Sunset Rock, but there are literally dozens from which to choose. Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center is located at the foot of Lookout Mountain near Ruby Falls, and it’s a great place for a walk in the woods. They also rent canoes if you’re in the mood to get on the water.

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Angela and her mother, Betty, at the start of a moonlight paddle launching from Chattanooga’s Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center

A little further outside downtown are Audubon Acres and Lula Lake Land Trust, both of which are great family hikes, and there’s a plethora of mountain biking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, tubing, and other adventure to be had within a few miles of downtown.

3. The spectator sports are world class. Prefer to cheer from the sidelines? Catch a Chattanooga Football Club (CFC) game at Finley Stadium, and be sure to tailgate with the Chattahooligans at Chattanooga Brewing Company before and after the action. They brew a special Chattahooligan Kölsch just for CFC fans.

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Our friend Galen Riley, scream leader for the Chattanooligans, at a CFC match (image: Chattanooga Times Free Press)

You can also watch athletes from all over the world as they compete in Ironman Chattanooga every September and the Ironman 70.3 in May. Hundreds of triathletes swim the Tennessee River, bike to North Georgia and back, and run across the bridges as Chattanoogans and fans from around the world cheer them on.

4. The music scene is way more than just “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.While the iconic Glenn Miller song helped put Chattanooga on the map in 1941, you’ll find a wide variety of live shows in the city’s concert venues these days. The Choo-Choo itself is home to Track 29 and Songbirds Guitar Museum, both of which have a regular roster of terrific live shows.

One of Chattanooga’s oldest venues, JJ’s Bohemia, is the city’s version of CBGB and has been named one of the 100 Greatest American Venues. It’s hosted the likes of Flaming Lips, Alabama Shakes, and Matthew Sweet. Chattanooga’s newest venue, The Signal, just opened this year and has already had Stone Temple Pilots, Breaking Benjamin, and Corey Smith on stage.

You can catch the free Nightfall Concert Series on Friday nights from May through August at Miller Plaza, where you’ll also find food trucks and beverage vendors. And the monthly jazz sessions at Barking Legs Theater are a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon after brunch.

Speaking of jazz, April is National Jazz Appreciation Month, and Jazzanooga hosts dozens of events all over town in celebration. Headliners like Lalah Hathaway and Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Octet share the spotlight with talented local music students, and jazz brunches at venues like Hunter Museum serve as fundraisers for the nonprofit organization.

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A live performance at the annual Jazzanooga jazz festival (image: Chattanooga Magazine)

The nine-day Riverbend Festival takes over downtown Chattanooga every June, and Ross’s Landing is also the scene for the Riverfront Nights concert series in July and August as well as the excellent 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival every October.

5. You can climb mountains and walls. The rock climbing is so good that people move to Chattanooga just for that. But Chattanooga also offers other ways to climb.

You can scale the outside of a building downtown at High Point Climbing Gym, or scale the side of Lookout Mountain aboard the Incline Railway. The Incline is even on Nomad Mania‘s list of international railways, metros, funiculars, and cable cars for world travelers to try!

6. Make friends with the fish. The Tennessee Aquarium revitalized Chattanooga’s riverfront when it opened in 1992, and over the past quarter century, they’ve added penguins, lemurs, and sharks to the original otters, crocodiles, and catfish (not in the same space, of course).

Check the Aquarium’s calendar for fun events like Aquascarium, where scuba divers in Halloween costumes greet you from inside the tanks. Deep Brew Sea gives you the chance to drink with the fish, and kids can overnight with the fish during Sleep in the Deep slumber parties.

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Mike dressed as a skeleton during the Tennessee Aquarium’s annual Aquascarium. As volunteer scuba divers, we love being part of this Halloween event! (image: Shon Medley)

7. From classics to comedy, the stage is set. Our first date was to see a play at the UTC Fine Arts Center, and we look forward to seeing shows every season. We’re also big fans of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, especially performances in the smaller Circle Theatre where you feel like you’re practically an extra in the show.

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The cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles on stage at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s Circle Theater (image: The University Echo)

Located in the Tomorrow Building, the new Palace Theater is hosting some terrific independent films along with a roster of stand-up comedy that’s worth checking out, particularly Once a Month with Natasha Ferrier and Grace Holtz.

8. Enjoy the Tennessee River as you walk, run, and bike. While we walk all over the city, the Tennessee Riverwalk is hands-down our favorite place in Chattanooga for a bike ride. We park at the Chickamauga Dam and ride to the end and back. It’s a 20-mile roundtrip journey along the riverfront through parks, sculpture gardens, playgrounds, and the arts district, and there are plenty of water fountains and restrooms along the way. Not traveling with a bike? You can rent one with a credit card at several kiosks around town.

For date night, we like to park at the Bluff View Art District and walk to Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, where we enjoy snacks and cocktails (try the fried calamari with a Lawton Rita) on the deck before walking back for dessert at Rembrandt’s Coffee House and a nightcap at Back Inn Cafe.

9. A bevy of boutiques makes it easy to shop local. No vacation is complete without a souvenir, and there are dozens of locally-owned stores where you can buy products handmade by Chattanoogans. Our favorites include Blue Skies, Winder Binder, Plum Nelly, Nooga Made, and Tangerina’s. You’ll find lots of these on Frazier Avenue next to Coolidge Park.

The Refindery on McCallie and Merchants on Main are interesting local stores with booths filled with antiques, vintage wares, collectibles, and memorabilia in all price ranges. If you visit them, plan plenty of time to browse. You could easily spend hours!

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A booth at The Refindery on McCallie

Want to find dozens of local makers in one place? Visit the weekly Chattanooga Market every Sunday from April to November at First Tennessee Pavilion. You’ll find Wanderlust & Wolf with beautiful handmade jewelry, The Bonnie Potter with lacy ceramic creations, and Noke’s Granola (try their ChattaBrew Nuts made with Chattanooga Brewing Co. beer and award-winning Hoff & Pepper Hoff Sauce). There’s live music every week along with local food trucks, and beer, wine, and cocktails are available. You can also pick up locally-grown produce, fresh flowers, baked goods, and local cheeses to take with you.

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Locally-grown produce at the weekly Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion (image: Chattanooga Market)

10. The craft beer scene is exploding. We’ve already mentioned Chattanooga Brewing Co., and there are nine other microbreweries in Chattanooga plus another two scheduled to open later this year. That’s a lot of great beer to drink!

Three of the breweries have won Gold Medals from the World Beer Cup: Big River Grille & Brewing Works for its Sweet Magnolia Brown, McHale’s Brewhouse for its Scottish Pride Ale, and Hutton & Smith Brewing Co. for its Bivouac Black IPA. And the delicious variety doesn’t stop there.

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A flight sampled on a ChattaBrew Tour of Chattanooga craft breweries (image: Chattanooga Magazine)

Love fresh, fruity beers? Try Heaven & Ale Brewing Co.’s Juice Buckets New England IPA. Enjoy a Vienna lager? Head to OddStory Brewing Co.. Want a great Belgian beer? You want Terminal Brewhouse’s Belgian White. Like it weird? You’ll feel right at home at Moccasin Bend Brewing Co. with an All Saints Irish Red in hand. And don’t forget about Mad Knight Brewing and Big Frog Brewing!

To go behind the scenes to see how each beer is made, take a ChattaBrew Tour, where you’ll board the brew bus to visit four local craft breweries. You’ll sample their signature brews and seasonal offerings while the brewmasters show you how the magic happens.

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(We’re pretty partial to these tours since we co-own the company, and we’ll even give you a discount to thank you for letting us toot our own horn. Use promo code ADVENTURE at chattabrewtour.com to save $5 on a tour when you’re in town.)

11. Food, glorious food! From old-school southern smokehouses to James Beard-nominated fine dining, the restaurant scene in Chattanooga is so terrific that it deserves its own post.

Have you been to the Scenic City? Leave a comment with your favorite things to do in Chattanooga!